When photographer Pete Voelker first arrived in New York, he found the city overwhelming—and immediately began to document the constant movement and shifting surfaces of the urban streets. Now, six years in, he wants others to be similarly overwhelmed during his one night-only exhibition (and first ever solo show) Might As Well Enjoy It, which collates over 600 photographs in a projection video just under 5 minutes long. That’s 120 photographs a minute, or 2 every second.
And “just to kind of overload the senses,” says Voelker, the video will be accompanied by a live score by Jack Ridley of Drowners (Voelker is the band’s unofficial manager and videographer).
“I’m trying to flood the viewer with imagery of this city,” says Voelker of the exhibition (which is curated by Antonia Marsh). “I haven’t shown my work this way before, so it’s kind of an experiment.”
The show takes its title from Jack Kerouac (specifically from a chapter entitled “New York Scenes” in the 1960 book Lonesome Traveler). “What’s Times Square doing there anyway?” Kerouac asks, before immediately dismissing the question. “Might as well enjoy it. — Greatest city the world has ever seen.”
Voelker, who lives in the East Village, was inspired both by Kerouac’s beatnik acceptance (even adoration) of the city’s inherent insanity, and by downtown stalwart Nan Goldin’s use of slideshow and projection. “It’s important to show all the photos because the idea is walking in the streets everyday, living in the city, becoming a part of it and really trying to understand it, and seeing all the intricacies of everyday life here. Little moments.”
He’s particularly drawn to accidental marks on the landscape. “Sometimes I see a tire mark, or somebody spilled a can of paint…just these moments where there was an abrupt action that was documented and left there. And it would be lost, but taking a photo of it preserves it somehow.”
Voelker shoots entirely in film, and the resulting images have a gritty raw-edged quality, the harsh angles and surreal light of the city enshrined in grainy color. When I ask about the exhibition’s title, he laughs. “Don’t get me wrong I love this city. But you’ve got to fight for everything; you’ve got to be devoted. It’s a big part of making it here, you’ve got to be able to take it all in, digest it and move forwards.” Ideally, this show will induce the viewer to do just that.
“Might As Well Enjoy It” at Niagara, 112 Avenue A, June 17, 8pm to 11pm; the score will be performed live twice, at 8:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m., and Drowners will DJ after 11.